Ludi Leiva's "A Home is a Portal"
By Alixandra Rutnik on Jul 26, 2023
One Club Member shares stunning black and white thesis project
My first introduction to black-and-white graphic novels was in an English Lit class in college. We read the off putting and disturbing novel Black Hole by Charles Burn.
Last year, I wrote the article Dangerous & Fast about the One Screen award winning film Black Ice– they turned the script into a black and white graphic novel to use as the storyline of the documentary.
Ludi’s thesis project, A Home is a Portal, is filled with stunning illustrations guided by prose that explores the meaning of belonging– specifically, her own family roots. We talked to Ludi to learn more about her epic thesis and her exhibition that incorporated multiple different artistic mediums for readers to enjoy.
If you’re interested in seeing Ludi’s traveling installation, A Home is a Portal, she has two upcoming exhibitions this fall. Her work will be displayed at the New York Latin American Art Triennial at PTM Contemporary, in NYC, in September, and at the Östberga Kulturhus, in Stockholm, Sweden, in October.
Congrats on graduating with your MA in Visual Communication from Konstfack in Sweden! How was your experience attending the program?
Thank you! I did my master’s program in person in Stockholm. It was a bit of an intimidating decision at the beginning, moving from the US to a new country and city that I’d never been to in the midst of a pandemic. But it ended up being the right choice for me. I had the opportunity to experiment a lot and to work in a free and fluid manner while also having institutional and financial support. This allowed me to take time away from my usual work to try new mediums, new means of expression, and new formats and embark on a project of such a large scope for the first time in my life. It felt nourishing to be in an environment that felt very supportive and encouraged my curiosity and experimentation. I really grew as an artist and person.
Your thesis, A Home is a Portal, is an illustrated story in black and white about traveling home. Why did you choose to take this route?
I investigate the meaning of home as someone who has always felt that I didn’t fully belong in the places I’ve lived and someone who is mixed-race with ancestral backgrounds of colonization, exile, and displacement on both sides of my family.
"I investigate the meaning of home as someone who has always felt that I didn’t fully belong in the places I’ve lived and someone who is mixed-race with ancestral backgrounds of colonization, exile, and displacement on both sides of my family."
Deciding to use black and white is something I have reflected on a lot because, usually, my work is extremely colorful and vibrant. I kept myself open to introducing color during this project, but it never ended up feeling right to me. I was focused on honing my compositional skills and working with form and light without the use of color, so this was a perfect way for me to challenge myself to do that. I did hundreds if not thousands of black and white drawings over the course of two years which is a volume I previously could have only aspired to do.
This project is still ongoing, but I would have had a lot less of the story to show by the time I graduated, because had I used color for each image it would have taken significantly longer to finish. The black and white allowed me to focus on feeling, emotions, and sense of place without worrying how color— “realistic” or otherwise– would affect the story or the readers’ experience of it. I also played with blurring the line between reality and dreams.
As a Canadian-American and Guatemalan-Slovak artist, can you elaborate on the themes of ancestral displacement, colonization, and exile?
As I touched on above, home has always been a loaded term for me. As long as I can remember, I’ve fielded “Where are you from?” questions which have always given me anxiety because it’s a difficult question for me to answer. The decision to pursue this exact project was really based on intuition. I knew I wanted to work on something to do with home, identity, and ancestral trauma, but I didn’t have a clear idea of what the project would look like until I started. I kept following my gut and made a bunch of turns and course corrections along the way before landing where I am now. As the project is ongoing, it remains to be seen where it ends up!
What was your favorite memory when creating, writing, and illustrating your thesis?
I think my favorite memory was printing out my textile prints for my installation in the final exhibition. I worked a lot with printmaking during my master’s, and making these prints was very fun and challenging. I remember being in a total flow for days on end, feeding these huge textile prints into this boiling hot press and gently pulling them out on the other side, and feeling the specific euphoria that came with seeing the finished product. It was really amazing.
"I remember being in a total flow for days on end, feeding these huge textile prints into this boiling hot press and gently pulling them out on the other side, and feeling the specific euphoria that came with seeing the finished product."
It was a learning curve with the sequential visual storytelling. As someone who has a writing background and does not have comic or visual sequential storytelling experience, it was a challenge to find the balance between when to use or not use text, and how much text to use in order to show and not tell through the imagery. I also have never worked with such a long visual story before.
There is a book, and the version I exhibited ended up being 120 pages. I don’t have the whole version online, but there is an excerpt on my website.
Could you tell me more about the exhibition?
My exhibition was a multi-sensory, multi-component installation that included a printed and bound prototype of the book– which I hand-bound myself– a scent installation tied to two memory and dream sequences in the story, and an installation from something I called “The Museum of Imagined Heirlooms.”
The museum was a made-up entity whose artifacts were based on my family's migration patterns and specifically things that were lost or left behind when fleeing their homelands, which I used as section dividers throughout the book.
The textile print installation was perhaps the most commanding element of the installation and was made up of twelve 5x5 feet prints on chiffon. My intention with this material was to have a high level of transparency so it would feel like the prints were blurring the boundaries between what was around them, in the same way memories and daydreams blur the boundaries between physical and dream worlds. I also wanted the textiles to flow and move as people walked past, to interact with the space around them, and to take on a life of their own in the exhibition space.
What made my exhibition a unique experience was the room and space that was created by the prints themselves. They were designed to make a sort of container for the interior of the exhibition where you could come in, sit, and slow down while interacting with the multiple sensory elements on view inside, including the book, the museum, and scent installations.
A Home is a Portal is an honest, vulnerable reflection on a very contemporary and modern question of home and belonging. In seeking to make physical the longing, nostalgia, and groundlessness that so many people who are part of a diaspora experience, it’s my hope that this project can play a part in helping to generate kinship and collective reflection. Amidst a global rise in nationalism and discrimination, stories like this have the potential to start conversations and challenge viewers to expand their conceptions of otherness and belonging. This story is about me, but it’s also about the universal desire we all have to belong and feel part of somewhere.
Now that you are no longer a student, what are your plans now?
First up is summer vacation! When in Rome, you do as the Romans do, so I am very much following the Swedish tradition of a long, intentional summer vacation. I want to prioritize rest and integrating all that I’ve done and learned in the last two years before returning to “real life” and getting back to work.
I will get back to work (freelance commercial illustration) during the late summer or early fall, but I also intend to prioritize boundaries and balance with my commercial illustration work and my personal art practice so the former doesn’t overtake the latter. I plan to keep fostering the spirit of curiosity and experimentation that I developed during my studies and keep working with printmaking, painting, and installation to grow more in these areas.
I’ll continue working on the book and start reaching out to publishing houses in search of one that is aligned with my work and intentions. I intend to keep on exhibiting and will be showing illustrations and paintings at two shows this autumn. I have been invited to show parts of A Home is a Portal internationally over the course of the next six months, and I am very excited about the opportunity to share my work in different contexts, countries, and cultures. And I can’t wait to continue growing and creating in this next chapter of my life.
"I have been invited to show parts of A Home is a Portal internationally over the course of the next six months, and I am very excited about the opportunity to share my work in different contexts, countries, and cultures. And I can’t wait to continue growing and creating in this next chapter of my life."
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